The fiasco of St Sepulchre’s closing its doors to the musicians for whom the church is named has finally woken the public up to what is going on within the Church of England. If your measure of success is the sheer volume of worshippers you can attract, then of course you will prefer to prioritise the accommodation of the faithful rather than lend your buildings to those who are of more dubious and less manifest faith. Read More
Sermon preached at the Holland Park churches, Sunday 9 July 2017
‘I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.’ (Romans 7:15)
I wonder how many of you have tried to give something up. For Lent, perhaps, or to lose weight? Or maybe you‘ve tried to give up smoking? So the words of St Paul will be familiar to you. That feeling when you accidentally cram yet another biscuit into your mouth while absent-mindedly chatting to a friend, then you realise you weren’t supposed to be eating it?
This sense of dislocation, of being divided against yourself, is what St Paul means. You may also have felt like this when you’ve lost control of your body – when it develops a mind of its own when you’re pregnant, or when your legs or your memory refuse to play ball as you get older.
Thanks to neuroscience, we have fancier words than sin and the law to describe it these days. Try this, St Paul: in the orbitofrontal cortex, a decision-making area of the brain, the brain’s circuits for habitual and goal-directed action compete for control. Usually, habit wins: neurochemicals called endocannabinoids act as a sort of brake on the goal-directed circuit to allow for habit to take over. Makes sense? This jargon is describing the rather mechanical process your brain indulges in to try to conserve energy. To do so, it uses tried-and-tested short-cuts, the neural pathways called heuristics, to keep you operating as efficiently as possible.
That’s why habits are so terribly hard to break. And today I want to talk to you about your habits, and specifically about habits to do with money. I want to offer you some ideas about how you might both audit and improve your money habits. Why? Because where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Read More
Sermon for Whitsun preached at St Michael and All Saints, Sunday 4 June 2017
Today I‘m in a poetic mood. I blame it on Whitsun. Did you do Larkin’s Whitsun Weddings at school?
That Whitsun, I was late getting away:
Not till about
One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday
Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out,
All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense
Of being in a hurry gone….
Which puts me in mind of train journeys:
Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June…
And Adlestrop reminds me of another fabulous name to conjour with, Ozymandias. Picture the scene. A desert. A broken statue. A notice:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Paper given at the University of Aberdeen, 11 May 2017
Luke 18:22-3 ‘Jesus said, “You still lack one thing: Sell everything you own and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” But when the rich young man heard this, he became very sad, because he was extremely wealthy.’
The hypothesis of this Joy and Prosperity event is that Christians have traditionally driven a wedge between them. A bit like the rich young man, there has been a feeling that you can’t have both joy and prosperity: blessed are the poor. Today we are testing that assumption, and my contribution is to look at the question through the lens of the axioms of classical economic thought. Read More
I discovered how easy it is to get a book dedicated to you when I was about 13. All you have to do is gather your sisters, and gang up on his best mate at your grandfather’s funeral. And hey presto, The Secret of Annex 3, by Colin Dexter, for Elizabeth, Anna and Eve. Read More
Sermon preached at St Michael and All Saints, Edinburgh, 22 January 2017
I wonder if you know that I went to Finishing School? Lucie Clayton College, to be precise. Joanna Lumley went there in the 60s. When I attended in the 90s, they still had their model of a car, so one could practice getting in and out of it without showing one’s knickers. Just the passenger seat, mind: ladies don’t drive. I learned how to sit for a ‘girls in pearls’ photo, how to glide down a staircase, and how to say No to men: “I’d really rather not.” Read More
I delivered a Thought for the Day for Radio Scotland, the text of which follows, by kind permission.
Good morning. Did you know that today is a Red Letter day? It’s called that, because if you open an old bible, the Saints’ days are marked out in the calendar in red letters. Today is a particularly red Red Letter day, because it’s All Saints Day.
I recently wrote an ebook for the William Temple Foundation about Ethical Consumerism. You can order it here. To help you to render your bank statement ever more glorious as a report card for your ethical consuming, I’ve embedded links below to some useful resources. Please alert me to any broken links or suggested additions – I’ll try to keep adding to it. Read More
Sermon preached at Jesus College, Cambridge, Sunday 8 November 2015
My brother once gave me a silver denarius. It’s from the time of Tertullian rather than the Gospels, but it’s an extraordinary thing to hold in your hand. Whenever I see it I hear ‘Render unto Caesar,’ or the grumbling of the workers in the vineyard. Read More